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Panera Cares Pay-What-You-Can Cafe Opens In Lakeview

By Anthony Todd in Food on Jun 25, 2012 3:20PM

Panera is taking an innovative approach to charitable giving. The new Panera Cares Café in Lakeview has no fixed prices, so guests pay what they can. It also has an innovative series of free food and work-for-food programs. Panera Cares depends on the generosity (and honesty) of patrons, and cynics may say it will be an automatic failure. However, this is the fourth Panera Cares café in the country and the others are still going strong.

At the Lakeview location, the menu boards still have the "regular" Panera prices, but they are labeled "Suggested Donation." Staff won't be demanding those amounts when you order. A sign above the counter asks guests to "Take what you need. Leave your fair share." Customers are, of course, welcome to give additional donations. Those without the money to pay for a meal can work for an hour around the cafe and receive a voucher for a free meal.

The menu board lays out the mission for the organization, which may be strange at first to most cafe-goers used to automatically handing over their credit card. "This is a non-profit cafe that relies on shared responsibility. We are not about a hand out. We are about a hand up for those who really need it. All we ask is that you leave what you can to support our non-profit cafe and community work." The cafe is also going to be giving away all of their day-old pastries, breads and bagels for free - just one per day, please.

The Panera Cares cafés are an initiative from Ron Saich, founder of Panera and current president of the Panera Foundation. “The vision for the Panera Cares cafe is to use Panera’s unique restaurant skills to address real societal needs and make a direct impact in communities,” said Shaich in a release put out on Thursday. Any extra proceeds from the cafe will be used to support future job training and huger relief programs.

Panera Cares is located at 616 W. Diversey Parkway.